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Soldier honored for heroism in El Paso shooting is arrested for going AWOL

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 4, 2019

Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley. (Master Sgt. Vin Stevens / U.S. Army)
Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley. (Master Sgt. Vin Stevens / U.S. Army)
By Alex Horton The Washington Post

Soon after a gunman killed 22 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August, a soldier emerged with a captivating story of rescuing children from gunfire.

“I’m in the military, so when I hear gunshots, I just think ‘take cover,’” Army Pfc. Glendon Oakley told MSNBC, describing the moment he said he carried frightened children out of a shopping mall near the Walmart. “I was trying to protect the kids.”

His tale went viral, earning him an Army Commendation Medal, but later it prompted skeptical comments from police, who said they could not verify Oakley’s claims.

Since then, Oakley’s story has taken a strange turn. The 22-year-old was arrested on a military warrant after police found him sitting in his car between late Wednesday and early morning Thursday near an IHOP restaurant 500 miles east of his Fort Bliss posting, said Lt. Stephen Miller, a Harker Heights, Texas, police department spokesman. (Fort Bliss is headquartered in El Paso.)

Authorities picked up pings on his cellphone in the town outside of Fort Hood, another Army installation in Central Texas, Miller said.

Oakley was held at the Bell County Jail. A detail from Fort Bliss was sent to extradite him for being “absent without leave,” said Master. Sgt. Vin Stevens, an installation spokesman, offering few details.

While it is unclear why Oakley was in Harker Heights at the time of his arrest, or the reason he allegedly left his unit, the Army said he is from Killeen, the next town over.

Oakley was initially celebrated for his story of rescuing victims in the shooting. President Donald Trump visited El Paso days later and shook his hand. “What a job he did,” Trump said of Oakley, the El Paso Times reported. “There are lot of heroes, a lot of people who did just incredible work.”

But doubts soon rose over Oakley’s story.

The Cielo Vista Mall is about 300 yards from the Walmart, where the killings occurred, said Sgt. Enrique Carrillo, a spokesman with the El Paso Police Department. Reports of multiple shooters triggered fear and an evacuation at the mall, but it was later clear that only one gunman was in the area, and he was nowhere near Cielo Vista.

“The truth is, there was no danger for anyone at the mall,” Carrillo told The Washington Post.

Authorities did not interview the people who were at the mall because of the distance and therefore cannot verify Oakley’s story. “We have no independent confirmation to support his claims,” Carrillo said. “Nobody has come forward and told us that their child or anyone else was saved.”

Stevens, the Fort Bliss spokesman, said Oakley’s award from his battalion for his actions that day was not being reconsidered despite the lack of an official confirmation of his claims and his arrest.

To coincide with his award, the Army published a story on Oakley, connecting his training to his actions. “It comes as no surprise to those around him that Oakley would demonstrate the courage and bravery needed to act in the face of unknown chaos and fear,” a division public affairs soldier wrote on Aug. 13.

But on Friday, after Oakley’s arrest became public, the story went offline for a short time before reappearing. Stevens said he did not know why that occurred.

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